Star power enhances Conspiracy Theory
Conspiracy Theory is a very different film. It shows how the power of stars can enhance a film, but it also shows how the pace of a film can ruin one. While the film has a very interesting and promising premise, the way director Richard Donner chose to film it doesn't quite hold up well. Sometimes the direction is really bad, and other times it is very good. However, the length of the film is a factor and many scenes could have been excluded to shorten the nearly two and a half hour length. Watching some of the scenes, I was trying to figure out why Donner had even left them in, as they slow down the pacing completely, almost to a dead stop. And to top that off, some of the plot elements are ridiculous and dumb. But Conspiracy Theory has incredible star power and some very tense moments to make up for most of the bad traits.
One of the biggest mistakes of the film was to have Brian Helgeland include humor into the screenplay. While it was funny because Mel Gibson's character was a little crazy, the movie keeps the humor throughout even when the entire mood of the film turns serious. Situational humor shouldn't be present in a serious film such as this one, and some of Gibson's predicaments made me want to laugh, but I couldn't because I cared for his character. Maybe if I hadn't then I could have laughed. In fact, some of the events are downright insulting and dumb. One in particular involves Gibson asking a guy he knocked out if he was faking. Some films are able to mix humor and drama together (Fargo) but Theory just didn't do it very well.
I have read some other reviews of this film claiming that the beginning of the film is poetic and excellent. For me, the movie got better as it went along, until the final last moments of the film. The title sequence is well done, introducing us to a paranoid cab driver who reads the newspaper and derives conspiracies out of the stories. His name is Jerry Fletcher (Gibson). Unfortunately, the movie starts spinning out of control as we watch Jerry proceed through his day. Almost all the scenes in the first half hour are unnecessary. We see his apartment and get a tour throughout his paranoid world, but we see the exact same thing happen an hour later in the film, which makes the first part seem pointless. The only thing that we really needed to see was Jerry putting together his newsletter, Conspiracy Theory. However, there is one nice moment involving Jerry watching a woman running on a treadmill. The scene plays out very well and creates a setup for later in the movie.
To the credit of Donner and his crew, the film begins to pull itself together at the appearance of Alice Sutton (Julia Roberts). Who is this woman? How does she know Jerry? We begin to get all these questions, and they are all answered with complete satisfaction with a little shock attached. We soon aren't sure who to trust, and our emotions are portrayed through Roberts' character. Maybe that is why I liked her character more than anyone else in the film. Alice is forced into a world of conspiracies and mystery, and we are taken along for the ride. One of the mysterious characters is Dr. Jonas (Patrick Stewart). Is he a good guy, or a bad guy? Can Alice trust him, or should she stick with Jerry?
The plot soon begins to thicken, and nothing is as it seems. This is the moment where the film picks up tremendous speed, enough to overpower the slow pace of the first hour. The action picks up, and the questions we had are now beginning to make sense--or are they? We learn the answers to questions, and then those answers could or could not be true. And then we want to know which answer is the correct one. All of this is convincingly and satisfactorally resolved in the final thirty minutes. The final thirty minutes is very well done, and the moment when the real villain is killed is exciting. I don't normally cheer when the bad guy is killed, but I did in this film. In fact, that moment is almost worth the price of admission. It's nice to be able to cheer for the good guys instead of wishing the villains killed everyone. When the latter happens, you probably should rethink your characters and plot.
While the plot may be a little preposterous, the technical details of the film are enough to make you forget about it. The cinematography, done by John Schwartzman, is impressive. The New York scenes are nicely photographed, and some of the camera angles are characteristically appropriate for this film. The music is slightly bothersome (done by Carter Burwell), but during moments of silence, one wishes there was some music playing. Still, the movie does bring a classic back, and expect the song to be played more often now while listening to the radio. The sets are unusual and almost a little distracting. The gloomy and dark look of some of the set pieces are unwanted, but I guess they capture the feel of New York. I, for one, liked the film better during the day when everything was lit. The dark shadows may have been appropriate and almost foreshadowing, but there is only so much darkness you can take.
However, the most impressive thing about Conspiracy Theory is the acting. Mel Gibson does a very good job of portraying the slightly mad cab driver. His paranoia can sometimes get annoying, but Gibson's presence makes it bearable. Julia Roberts steals the film right out from under Gibson, and it's so nice to see her back on the screen again. I have yet to see My Best Friend's Wedding, but I think Roberts is one of Hollywood's best actresses. Patrick Stewart is extremely effective as the creepy and suspicious psychiatrist. We never quite know who is the bad guy, even though we have our own theories. Unfortunately, Gibson has such an engaging presence that it is hard to believe that he could be the bad guy. But is he? That is one of the best things about the film. Cylk Cozart is practically wasted, but he does a good job with what he is given. His character is kicked around more than anything else.
Conspiracy Theory is rated R for some violence. Actually, the whole mood of the film is enough to give it an R rating. There really isn't anything offensive, but you can tell it would be R rated just from watching it. While the film is a good two and a half hour piece of entertainment, it is most likely going to be forgotten in about two months. And while I am criticizing the film, I did enjoy it, especially the final showdown between good and bad. One last criticism: I hated the ending of the film. It had Hollywood written all over it. Don't get me wrong--I love Hollywood, but the scene just seemed out of place with the rest of the film. I mean, everything in the film is dark and gloomy, why not end the film that way?
*** out of ****
Reviews by Boyd Petrie